When I worked for the feds, I traveled for work all the time. At first, I loved it. I grew up in Rhode Island, and I'd never been west of the Mississippi River. Flying out to Pocatello, Idaho, or Ventura, California, was a perk, not a burden.
Then it got old. I remember one night at Los Angeles International Airport, lined up with all the other miserable zombies, pushing midnight, waiting to board a delayed redeye. A young woman a few places ahead of me was talking to nobody in particular:
"All my friends are like, 'Oh, my God! Jenny is so lucky. She's this glamorous business traveler ...'"
I learned some travel tricks--exploiting government airline contracts to make last-minute ticket changes, and sometimes (wait, I'll take the Fifth, but let's just say I had colleagues who supposedly did this) flashing official credentials to skip the security lines. Granted, this was all pre-9/11, but we really weren't supposed to do that.
These days, I'm like everyone else in coach--trying to make the best of a sometimes difficult situation. Over on Quora, people have been compiling their best business travel tips. The thread is ongoing, but here's some of the top advice:
(By the way, be sure to let me know if you have great tips you'd like to share with other Inc.com readers in a future column.)
1. Choose one airline and stick with it.
This makes sense, if you can stand it. The more loyal a customer you are, the better you should expect to be treated. As one Quora contributor put it: "Sell your soul to get premium status on your airline's miles program. Plan to fly this airline exclusively, even if cheaper fares occasionally pop up elsewhere."
2. Sign up for TSA PreCheck and/or Global Entry.
Like I say, flashing a badge is no longer an option for me, but these programs can dramatically reduce security lines--assuming you can prove you're a low-risk traveler. At the very least, get to the airport early so you're not stressed out while you're waiting to take off your belt and put your laptop in a plastic tray by itself.
3. Pay attention to flight delays when booking.
Past is prologue when it comes to on-time performance, so a little planning (and skipping flights that are often delayed more than half an hour) can pay off.
4. Listen to your stomach.
"Are you flying early in the morning? Late at night? During lunch?" a contributor wrote. "Be sure to plan for that, and identify food options ahead of time."
Another contributor suggested: "Pack the airport essentials. Mine are an empty water bottle, a granola bar, a tiny tube of hand cream, socks, computer chargers, and a sleeping mask."
Good advice, all, and filed under "things my wife and I wish we'd thought of before we were stuck in the airport in Rome for an entire day on the way home from vacation this year."
5. Never fly the day before Thanksgiving (November 25 this year!).
"I have done this every year for the past five years, and it is consistently my worst experience as a passenger," writes a Quora contributor who apparently cannot learn a lesson. "Demand is consistently high. Inclement weather is a given. Everyone working is grumpy. Just skip this if you can."
(My additions: Flying on Thanksgiving itself is serene. Flying on Halloween is kinda fun.)
6. Ship what you can, rather than packing it.
Oh, absolutely. If you can plan ahead just a little bit, this can be a godsend. As a Quora contributor pointed out, now that airlines charge for almost every checked bag, this is especially attractive: "[T]here is a good chance shipping it via FedEx will be cost competitive with a $40 checked bag fee."
7. If you do have to bring luggage, carry it on.
8. If you must check bags, use luggage tags that stick out.
One reader suggested a "motion-sensitive, LED-illuminated luggage tag holder [with] flashing lights" (like this one, for example).
9. Select your seat late (on unpopular flights).
The point here is to choose seats in which you won't be next to another passenger--or to even find the holy grail of coach travel: an entire row to yourself. However, the chances of this have fallen, since airlines are cramming more passengers onto fewer flights.
10. Get on board early if you have a carry-on.
It sucks to have to do this, but being one of the first in line in your boarding group can make the difference between finding overhead bin space and scrunching your knees the entire flight--or even having to check your bag at the last minute. (Extra tip: Research your airline's boarding procedure and choose your seat on the basis of when it will be called to board.)
11. But if you don't have a carry-on, take your time.
Seriously, why rush if you don't have a reason to? Except for the feeling of being settled, there's rarely a reason to race onto a plane first if you don't have to fight for bin space.
12. Carry a battery pack.
This made so much sense that we'll quote Quora's contributor directly:
"Many flights have wait areas where you can charge your phone. I don't like to leave my phone ... I just charge my battery pack that I bought for $10 online and then charge my phone on the plane."